portion control over Christmas (1)

Focus On: Portion Control Over Christmas

If there was ever a bad time to write an article on portion sizes and portion control, it’s this time of year. So, what do you eat when there’s too much to eat? Rabin Das is here with his expert advice 

You know the drill. It’s Christmas, there’s food everywhere and every activity seems to revolve around the pub, so how do you manage in the face of such excess? With some forward planning, you can maintain portion control over Christmas.

At this time of year nothing is normal. Everything is provided in excess.  Supermarket chains advertise ‘more for everyone this Christmas’ and we are reminded to enjoy the festive period as a reward for a hard year worked.

As a blanket public health message, portion control is a solid ‘global guideline’ for the general public to follow. However, if our environment wasn’t so plentiful, it would likely be something that would yield a higher success rate.

But our environment is plentiful.

Changes to the way we produce food has brought about increased food energy supply. This means, in short, that the amount of energy we get from food provided to us has increased.

Why is that a bad thing?

Well, our energy requirements haven’t increased to match this. In fact, it could be argued that we have become less active and reduced our energy requirements.

Within our current occupational climate. our energy supply is surplus to our actual needs. We DON’T need the amount we eat but it’s still there, available to us at a second’s glance.

This is a very long-winded way of saying that portion control matters a lot more than we can imagine.

So, what do we need to know about managing our portions?

Being perfectly honest, there is no ‘perfect’ portion protocol per meal to follow.  There are a few ‘best practice’ suggestions that can be thrown around but at the end of the day people have their own preferences and taste requirements, both of which can overcome any effort made to control portions.  

From a more ‘health-focused’ point of view the ‘not too much, mostly plants’ mantra should always be in mind when looking at overall portion spread and dietary patterns. This comes from the repeated dietary patterns of the ‘healthiest’ populations around the globe.

(Oh, and for the record, being ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean you can’t have animal protein. It’s more that your overall dietary intake contains mostly plants.)

Other considerations for portions, if we are thinking about overall health, weight-management and maintenance or even weight-loss should include things like adequate levels of protein.

How about hunger management?

Part of the problem we currently have is that we struggle to decipher hunger signals and what the appropriate response should be to them.

Combine this with the energy dense snack environment that we live in and one can see how getting to grips with true hunger versus ‘fake hunger’ is a difficult task. Just like fake news, ‘fake hunger’ appeals to our worse natures.

Hunger management also matters because of our food environment.

Food choice is abundant. Those foods are highly palatable.

Food availability is the greatest it has ever likely been.

Being able to purchase high energy items without more than a reach creates the climate that is unforgiving in our pursuit of ‘normal’ or ‘moderation’.

So, what’s the portion control ‘go-to’ guide?

For me it’s always going to start with whole foods or foods that we know create greater feelings of fullness.

  • Pick a protein source: If it requires cooking, use olive oil but don’t go nuts with it.
  • Select a decent serving of vegetables. These can be fresh, frozen, seasonal, ‘artisanal’, whatever. Just get a good selection of them and make them the bulk of your meal.
  • If your adding in a carbohydrate source, consider using sources that again provide greater satiety and hunger management. The humble potato is a good shout, along with things like oats. Certain grains go well here as well but again, the goal would be to make these be more complementary to the meal itself.

Repeat this pattern for 2-3 other meals that you have over the course of the day and you’ve pretty much become a health guru.

Snacks wise, I would operate on the same level as the meals, just with smaller amounts. Again, protein sources are a good shout here.

Add in a portion of nuts somewhere over the course of the day and that should round things off nicely. Be careful with the size of this. A portion of these is quite small, but that’s an entirely different can of worms.

There you have it. Notice how there’s been no mention of calories, calorie counting, macros, chakra balancing etc.

No to macros?

Well, most of what I have suggested above is relatively nutrient dense but not calorie dense. This is in direct contrast to the food available in our food environment and the portions we get when we eat out.

All of the individual components have either known health benefits, hunger management benefits or a combination of both.

Now if we get back to why protein and plant-based sources matter so much from a portion control position, it’s because of their overall satiating effect.

That’s why there is a delicate interplay between our portions and our environment.

But what about enjoying ourselves?

This is crucial as well. Food is to be enjoyed!

We should enjoy our food and the communities that it brings together BUT knowing that portion sizes have grown out of control needs to be recognised.

Restaurants and eateries are there to provide you with a taste experience and provide value for money relative to their competitors. They’re trying to keep up with the market providing larger portions. They’re not really too interested in your desire to manage your portions.

But, following the above recommendation can help you do two things.

  • Follow a similar approach when you are out for a meal
  • Let you enjoy the meal and ‘as much as you want’ because you know that you can return to a normal pattern of eating.

Regardless of which approach you take, ultimately you need to realise that portions given outside of the home are NOT the norm. This is such a significant consideration.

A little recap and conclusion:

There is no ‘go-to’ portion control guide to show us the way. Creating meals from nutrient dense but not energy dense whole food sources is probably the best way forward. Eating plenty of plant-based things would also be a good idea.

Remember that our food environment is not aiding us in our efforts to be healthier so becoming more mindful about managing the amount of food we consume away from home is likely a good idea as well.

Rabin Das is an MNU Certified Nutritionist and holds an MSc in nutrition and metabolism. He’s assionate about all things nutrition related. And he hopes to make a difference with the spread of honest, trustworthy and actionable nutrition information. Check him out on Instagram or at dasnutritionconsultancy.com

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